By Aida Toro
Restaurant pop-ups, food trucks, and food halls are the talk of the town and social media. Down at Bourse Hall, a food hall in Philadelphia’s Old City sector, is one of the many establishments that should be paid a visit. The concept is Lalo.
“This is a very touristy area”, said owner, Jillian Encarnacion.
Owned and operated by Encarnacion, Resa Mueller, and Neal Santos, Lalo is a fast-casual concept which is fixated around Filipino comfort food. The locale has been opened since 2018 and came to fruition through Pelago Pop-Up Kusina, which is short for arcopelago, the group of Philippine islands. Encarnacion and Mueller were inspired to call the concept Lalo as their grandparents play a big role with the name. Lalo is taken from the words grandma and grandpa in Tagalog, which are Lola and Lolo. Take the last two letters of each name, and you have the word Lalo.
“My grandfather used to sell our shish-kabob sandwich right across the street for 35 years out of a little cart,” said Encarnacion. “Just about a year ago he passed away.”
The story of Encarnacion’s grandfather selling the shish-kabob sandwiches out of his cart, and the Pelago Group hosting Phillipino dinner pop-ups for the city of Philadelphia, just made sense for Encarnacion and Mueller. And so, the start Lalo evolved.
When I first walked into Bourse Hall, I searched for Lalo and found it right away. The colors and decor instantly popped. The team gained decor inspiration from the Philippines and worked with OneZero Design Co, a company based out of Manila. The company designed Lalo’s stall with Filipino inspired household items like the banig. It’s a traditional Filipino sleeping mat that is hand-woven from palm leaves or grasses, and dyed in bright colors and patterns. Encarnacion and Mueller immediately made me feel right at home as we sat down at one of the picnic inspired tables at the food hall.
There’s a good reason Lalo’s menu only consists of six items, too. The staff wanted to focus on making the cuisine as approachable and traditional to the best of their ability. I ordered the Lumpia Shanghai, which are crispy pork and lemongrass egg rolls, with a side of house sweet chili sauce. Nine rolls come in one basket placed on top of a banana leaf. The rolls were savory and mouthwatering. And, every dip into the sweet chili sauce, a metaphoric cherry on top of deliciousness.
“My personal favorite is the baskabab. It triggers emotions and memories that are just very tasty,” said Encarnacion about the items on Lalo’s menu. “We not only serve it as a sandwich, but we serve it over our garlic rice. It’s one big grilled chicken kabob, laid over an Amoroso roll —which is very Philadelphia. It’s our number one seller.”
Once I was done eating the rolls, I tried the Salabatchhh cocktail which is made up of rum, Farm 51 ginger, honey, citrus. Drink it hot or iced. Since it is cold here on the East Coast, I tried the hot version . After drinking it, I felt pleasantly satisfied. On a side note, the beverage is somewhat of a remedy one can drink if they feel they are going to catch a cold. It contains local ginger, honey, and citrus.
“We do very craft-oriented cocktails in a fast-paced setting,” said Encarnacion. “Salabatchhh is a very traditional Phillipino drink and is basically what your grandma or mother would make you if you’re feeling sick.”
After I sipped on my cup of Salabatchhh, I sealed the deal with a piece of Leche Flan. The Leche Flan had a different taste from the Cuban or Brazilian flans I’ve had in the past. This specific flan is made with egg yolks, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. The custard is topped with a syrupy caramel, and its rich and creamy.
“It feels really nice to contribute to one of the larger landscapes of Philadelphia’s food scene,” said Mueller. “People come and it’s warm and it’s fun. It’s really inviting and I think that makes a difference when you have a female fronted business.”
Overall, my experience at Lalo felt very homelike. Hanging out with Encarnacion and Mueller at Bourse Hall and trying some of their cuisines along with cocktails, was the highlight of my afternoon. Spending time like this is something I look forward to whenever I am in Philadelphia and highly recommend taking some time to visit Lalo to experience Filipino food with comforting vibes from Encarnacion and Mueller at Bourse Hall in Philadelphia’s Old City.